St. Joe's head coach Billy Lange (above) has had an already-short rotation hurt by injuries in his first season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Kevin Callahan (@CP_Kcallahan)
PHILADELPHIA - Early in the second half, Ryan Daly posted up his man down low. The sturdy 6-foot-5 Daly had his 5-8 Duquesne defender sealed and alone in the lane without help.
The leading scorer for Saint Joseph's extended his right hand as he pinned Tavian Dunn-Martin. All that was stopping Daly from scoring his first basket of the game was a clean entry pass.
The pass was deflected.
That pointless possession - on what should have been the easiest contested layup on Wednesday night - really punctuated why and how the Hawks absorbed a bland 78-60 setback to Duquesne in an uncontested Atlantic 10 contest.
And, that boggled possession can also explain this challenging season for Saint Joseph's, now 3-12 and 0-3 in the conference.
Sure, Duquesne (13-2 and 3-0 in the A-10) was a quality opponent and coach Keith Dambrot’s half-court man defense that mostly collapsed in the lane against Daly contributed to St. Joseph’s struggles offensively, but the Hawks are also hurting themselves right now by not making the simple plays like an entry pass to their leading scorer on a mismatch.
And, even more obvious, they are not making makeable shots.
“For us, I was pleased with the level of shots we got, particularly in the first half, not near the end where a few were rushed, but in the beginning of the first half,” first-year coach Billy Lange said. “I thought our open looks were good. You just have to make them. And that is basketball. It is a miss-and-make game.
“And, if you are doing the right things and you are missing, sometimes that is when it can become a little dispiriting, but that is where we have to continue to build.”
The other part of the disconcerting equation on the failed entry pass was Daly still hadn’t scored a field goal after 20 minutes of play at the half-filled Hagan Arena. The Havertown native was coming off a 22-point effort against 15th-ranked Dayton on Sunday and he was leading the A-10 in scoring at 19.9 points a game.
Dambrot’s strategy of using smaller and quicker guards to defend Daly and collapsing in the lane certainly handcuffed him. Daly, who scored 32 in early December against Villanova, didn’t convert his first basket until 10:30 left in the second half. By that time, the Hawks were down 24 points.
Daly, a redshirt junior who sat out last season after transferring from Delaware, had topped the 20-point plateau already nine times this season. He finished with just three points on 1-for-8 shooting from the floor against the Dukes.
“We need Ryan, obviously, to make plays,” Lange said. “I thought he found some guys for open looks that weren’t knocked down. Credit Duquesne, they did a really good job of collapsing the paint on him and forcing him to kick it and then all of a sudden you have to make a good shot.”
Redshirt junior guard Ryan Daly (above) has had to do everything for the Hawks, leading them in scoring (18.8 ppg), rebounding (8.0 rpg), and assists (4.5 apg). (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Lange knows other teams will copy this defensive blueprint. He knows the answer is obvious as well. That is why he said the 17-point effort by 6-5 freshman guard Cameron Brown in 30 minutes was a “real positive for us.”
“You got to score,” Lange said. “You got to do what Cam Brown did. You need four guys to do that. You have to have a short memory. You can’t get caught up in the last play on either end. You just have to step in with swagger. We are not pulling guys in and out for bad shots – we will talk about it the next day – but by-and-large you are stepping in and he (Daly) is dumping off for layups and guys have them, there is really not much you can do, they have to step up.
“There is no magic pill, they have to do it. Now we will X-and-O and we will strategize and scheme and find ways to look for maybe cleaner looks, but in the end of the day, if you get an open layup, or you get an open three, or you get to the foul line, I want our guys to be confident in those three areas.”
Lange, who replaced Phil Martelli, didn’t bang his head against the wall to quickly find other positives.
Lorenzo Edwards, a 6-7 junior forward, collected 12 rebounds and 11 points while 6-7 sophomore guard Myles Douglas scored 12 to provide some positive.
“Myles is improving, he is getting more aggressive, we want more,” Lange said. “Zo is improving … but we still want more.”
And there were other bright spots that an upbeat coach can find.
“I think we did a better job in the second half of taking care of the basketball,” Lange said about two turnovers in the final 20 minutes after eight giveaways in the first half. “So that is a level of improvement.”
Without fail, turnovers and poor shooting is a losing combination. The Hawks hit the exacta in the first half, shooting just 8-for-34 from the field, including 2-for-18 behind the arc.
Crawling into the game with one win in their last 11 outings, the Hawks certainly could’ve used a stronger shooting start, but the Dukes sprinted to a 11-point lead midway through the first half.
“There were a lot of positives but the results weren’t as good as we probably would have wanted,” Lange said, speaking broadly about the game.
Lange arrived on Hawk Hill from the 76ers, where he served as an assistant since 2013, so he understands all about patience and how this is a rebuild.
Truly, the sluggish start really isn’t surprising since the Hawks were picked by the league coaches to finish 13th in the preseason poll.
Compounding the innate challenges, the Hawks have been playing without their injured second-leading scorer Taylor Funk, a 6-8 junior forward who averaged 9.4 points and 5.1 rebounds in playing 29.9 minutes over seven games.
“Taylor has been out for a while, I mean, you just got to keep coaching the guys you got,” Lange said. “You got to get some guys believing in themselves despite what maybe the results are saying. Taylor was a big loss, but we aren’t going to make any excuses. And we are just going to keep it moving.”
So with the talent level down, Saint Joseph’s is relying on the great equalizer between disparate teams – the 3-pointer. The Hawks came into the game 12th overall in the nation in 3-point attempts (440).
Lange, though, isn’t looking at the stats as much as the big picture.
“Winning and losing are both very phony,” Lange said. “It’s the coach’s job not to overreact and not underreact. That is my creed right now. I have to live that. If we win, but did we get any better? We can celebrate the win, but I don’t want us to get caught up in it and the same thing with a loss.”
In addition to the Sixers, the energetic Lange has experience on the college level of needing patience and being positive. He has turned a program around before, enduring three losing seasons to start at Navy before posting consecutive 16-14 and 19-11 seasons.
“Often what happens if you have a group that is new is they can’t visualize (that) we missed a shot and come back and get a stop because they are still stuck on that other end,” Lange said. “I mean I lived this. I coached in high school, I coached every level of college except JUCO and NAIA and in the NBA and that is what it is, can you not let your spirit be broken, and that is on us as a staff. I feel like the assistants have been very positive, but to me the answer strictly is, does the shot go in?
“We are not going to make all of them, but can we get one-out-of-five so we are not down 14, now you are down seven or eight and now you got it.”
Afterwards, the Hawks lined up at half court. The school band played and Lange clapped in rhythm with the Hawk flapping its wings. Lange is staying the course.
“I was really proud of the guys effort at the end of the game,” he said, still focusing on the positives with the understanding of how far the Hawks still have to go to even make the simple plays like an entry pass consistently.